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Shutdown Mailbag: Plenty to say about Michael Sam, the Dolphins, and the kiss

St. Louis Rams seventh-round draft pick Michael Sam listens to a question during a news conference at the NFL football team's practice facility Tuesday, May 13, 2014, in St. Louis
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St. Louis Rams seventh-round draft pick Michael Sam listens to a question during a news conference at the NFL football team's practice facility Tuesday, May 13, 2014, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

Nothing like the NFL offseason and a political/social turning point to get everyone all fired up and attacking their keyboards like Richard Sherman at an open mic. In the wake of Michael Sam's draft-day kiss and Miami's Don Jones' subsequent suspension for criticizing said kiss, you, our fine readers, had plenty to say. So here's a representative roundup from actual readers, along with our responses to the most frequently raised arguments. Fire 'em up!

[The kiss] was publicity stunt that all of you journalists loved. He likely would have went undrafted if not for the media circus about his “gayness.” Since when has free speech and freedom of thought been trumped in this society? Conformity to whatever the so called “elites,” who could not feed themselves in the real world, is becoming nauseating to the millions of us who could care less about Sam's personal life.

-Robert W

Whew. That's a lot to unpack right off the bat. Let's take on the big ones: "free speech" and "freedom of thought." Do me a favor: think of the NFL team you hate the most. Now imagine them set adrift on an ice floe in the Arctic Ocean. (Good thing you're wearing your Uggs, Tom Brady!) Did you imagine that? Good. Now you know the NFL isn't restricting your freedom of thought, because heaven knows they wouldn't want you thinking you could put an NFL team on an ice floe without paying a relocation fee.

As for freedom of speech, do this: go say whatever you want about Michael Sam. Scream it to the world if you want. Did government agents come to arrest you? (We'll wait to see if it happens.) No? Good. That means your free speech, as defined by the Constitution, still exists. Just so we're clear: free speech protects you from being arrested for what you say. It does not protect you from being criticized, mocked, or losing your job for what you say. Free speech is not freedom of consequence from speech. (If you said what you wanted about Michael Sam in your workplace and you got fired, well ... you're one letter ahead of a point we'll make in just a bit.)

Regarding Sam getting drafted because of his sexual orientation: curiously enough, he was projected as a third- to fifth-round pick before he came out. (And, to be fair, before he had an awful combine.) Somehow, between his coming out and his terrible combine performance, he dropped several rounds in many mock drafts. That sure doesn't sound like he got a bump upward by coming out.

Do I think the NFL may have "encouraged" teams to draft Sam in the later rounds? It's highly possible that a few war rooms received a phone call from NFL HQ reminding them of their options. But Sam is now in a meritocracy. If he can't perform, he'll be out the door, and he'll have no one to blame but himself. Getting drafted is one thing, making the team is something very different.

One other thing: did you hear mention of the first player of each race taken in the draft? Of course not, because we're past the point where non-whites playing sports is a big deal. We'll get there eventually with sexual orientation, as well. Let's all just ride out the transition together.

Going forward, will Sam's orientation be a topic of every press conference? There's this encouraging sign from Tuesday:

Oh, and as for us elites not being able to feed ourselves in the real world: you got us there. That's why there's free food in every press box. 

Next up, we address the situation of Dolphins cornerback Don Jones, who was fined and ordered to go to "education" for some tweets he made in reaction to The Kiss.

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[Don Jones] was wrongfully fined and suspended. His reaction on Twitter to them sharing that cake was perfectly acceptable. That crossed the line no matter what the sexual orientation of the participants. Stuff like that should stay behind closed doors and all of the networks that showed footage of it should be reprimanded by the FCC.

-AreJayDub

Let's put aside the idea of "stuff like that" staying behind closed doors, since any reality show you care to watch will show men and women treating the sanctity of heterosexual relationships the way a rumbling-stomach dog treats the sanctity of your lawn. You do realize you're asking the government (the FCC) to infringe on someone else's free speech, yes? OK, just so we're clear. The highway doesn't only run in the direction we want to go.

Now, I'll admit to a bit of trepidation about the Jones story, mainly because of the unclear rules in place regarding tweeting. Here's the deal in a lot of workplaces, mine included: on social media, you're a representative of the company for which you work, and you're expected to behave in a public forum in a way that won't embarrass your company. Don't like it? Work for another company.

However, the NFL and the NFLPA are still a bit murky about whether players are representatives of their teams at all times. Offseason? In-season, but not on game day? The uneven application of punishment is something that the players' association ought to address, pronto.

Plus, it's worth noting that Jones is a member of the Dolphins, a team that just came off its own little bullying scandal. Mocking another NFL player isn't exactly the wisest move for anyone in Miami, and it's no wonder the Dolphins dropped the hammer almost immediately.

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What a shame!!!!!!!!!!!!!  Jones like many others, myself included, can no longer voice our opinions AGAINST homosexuality.  What’s next? Just because we disagree with LIBERALS we are WRONG?  It’s okay to stand on a soap box and proclaim you agree with immorality but wrong to stand on that same soap box and say you disagree with it?  Freedom of speech okay for LIBERALS but not CONSERVATIVES.

-Richard O

You do see the irony of defiantly saying someone else is wrong, but getting upset when they say you're wrong, don't you? That's another element of free speech that's sometimes forgotten: free means free, not just "free as long as it agrees with ME."

Anyway. It's really too bad you can't voice your opinions. If only there were a place where you could say exactly what you want to millions of football fans, my friend. Where your exact words were printed for the whole world to see. Someday, someday.

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Well if they are going to fine him for expressing the thoughts of millions of heterosexuals, I think us heterosexual men should abstain from watching any professional sports at all in protest till they get our message loud and clear.

-TDunn

Uh ... OK. Good luck getting that one off the ground.

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So this guy says “horrible” and gets a suspension while Ray Rice beats up his girlfriend and the NFL does nothing. How long has the NFL been anti-U.S. Constitution and against free speech?

-David G.

I'm not sure the NFL is doing anything unconstitutional. Well, except for forcing us to wait weeks longer for the draft, which definitely meets the Founders' definition of "cruel and unusual punishment" in the Eighth Amendment.

As for Ray Rice: this is the kind of false equivalency that seeks to ensure no progress is ever made. It's an elementary-school siblings argument: "You didn't punish him for stealing a cookie last month! Why are you punishing me for not eating my vegetables today?" That's not at all the issue here.

However, you do have a point: there are more holes in the NFL's regulatory method than in the Jaguars defense. So I'm with you on this: anything that lights the fire under the NFL for stepping up its punishment of domestic violence offenders, I'm all for it.

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Hey, why not mention the horrible double standard... all the public mocking and ridicule from other players about Tim Tebow? Did you forget? Or do you know how to report properly? Or do you agree with the spineless profit-minded NFL cowards afraid of [gay interest groups] whose mission is to utterly destroy anyone who does not agree or think like them? Gay = Good, Pray = Bad. It's MOB rules now in society, they try to determine what is good and what is right, all dissenters will be crushed! And the media not only lets them get away with it, they play a willing active part in it as well.

-Bill

We saw a lot of this "why's it OK to make fun of Tebow but not Sam?" type of email. And here's my question: where exactly were all these articles mocking Tebow for his beliefs? Not his expression of his beliefs, but the actual beliefs themselves? There's a big difference there, between what can be changed and what is innate. It's the difference between making fun of someone's haircut and making fun of someone's mother.

Most anti-Tebow articles were like this one, creating this straw man of "controversy" around Tebow without any actual examples of articles mocking Tebow's Christianity. People made fun of Tebow for three reasons:

1. In the judgment of people who have spent their entire lives studying football, and winning Super Bowls while doing so, Tebow just wasn't very good at playing football on a professional level.

2. Tebow was so doggone earnest and sweet. Perhaps that's as a result of his Christianity, perhaps it's just his nature. But in our hipper-than-thou culture today, gosh-wow honesty earns you some grief. That's a cultural truth, not religious discrimination.

3. Tebow is a wealthy white American male, and as such is a member of the most highly privileged demographic in world history. (I say this as a fellow white American male, though alas not quite as wealthy as Tebow.) Should he feel guilty for his privilege? Of course not. But everybody gets, and deserves, a bit of dirt on their shoulder as they go through life. Tebow, to his credit, hasn't ever played the victim. I think he can take a bit of ribbing about having a squeaky-clean image.

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I guess that the BIBLE means very little to the NFL.

-Thomas W.

I would guess that you're right, since Leviticus 11:8 forbids the touching of pigskin and Exodus 35:2 forbids working on Sunday under penalty of death.

All right, that's about enough of that. Thanks for reading and for writing, everybody. Fire away your comments via email or let me know how you feel on Twitter at @jaybusbee. Only a few short months till kickoff, thank heaven.

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